In a union fight that’s been ongoing for over a year, the United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico urged the University to start negotiations with them at the rally they held on campus Wednesday, Jan. 26. Calling on UNM to improve pay, working conditions and more, the grad union notably had the support of Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury at the rally, though she wasn’t able to physically attend.
The rally came after the Union received official certification, consisting of a finalized signed card count and ruling from the Public Employee Labor Relations Board chair Mark Meyers, on Jan. 4, 2022, according to a press release, after over a year of fighting with UNM administration over graduate workers’ right to unionize.
“We are ready to bargain for solutions. We have elected a bargaining committee. We’ve surveyed our membership. We’ve grown our union despite UNM’s attempts to make us go away,” union member Ramona Malczynski said at the rally.
Although Stansbury was set to attend the rally in person, she received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on Tuesday and spokesperson Ebony Baty read her statement at the event instead.
“I first met with United Grad Workers of UNM when I was serving in the New Mexico State House ... I have been so inspired by the heart and determination of this group, which has set an example for grad workers across the country,” Baty said on Stanbury’s behalf.
Alejandría Lyons, a UNM alumnus and SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) environmental justice organizer, spoke about UNM’s conflicting efforts to create a more diverse student and staff population while simultaneously creating poor working conditions for these same individuals.
“It’s a shame that UNM has a social justice statement and continues to treat its workers as such,” Lyons said. “If you have a land acknowledgement, maybe you should treat your workers in that way to respect those ancestors that you want to talk about the land that you're on.”
The Union is comprised of over 1,500 graduate workers who receive an average stipend of $14,438. According to the Michigan Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, the minimum living wage in Bernalillo County, as of Jan. 2019, is $13.87 an hour. Someone working year-round for 40 hours a week at this wage would make $26,630 a year, nearly double what graduate workers are paid on average.
Jay Wilson, a member of the Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, a nonprofit organization that supports working families, was present at the rally and talked about his own past struggles when he didn’t make a living wage.
“I remember working 40 hours and coming back home during a rainy night in Houston and seeing an eviction notice on my door and wondering, ‘What the hell more can I do?’” Wilson said, addressing the crowd. “And you all ask yourselves that everyday, but you still manage to make it happen.”
The rally concluded with several members and attendees marching to the office of UNM Provost James Holloway to deliver a portion of the total 2,948 letters that call for the University to begin the bargaining process.
“We came together and formed a union not just because we lack health insurance, a grievance process and a liveable wage, but because we want to ensure that our undergraduate students — the next generation of leaders in our state — receive a world-class education right here in Albuquerque,” Malczynski said.
John Scott is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JScott050901